I was looking back at some reports from past years and noticed that only last year had we had an early brush with a storm. You might remember Tropical Storm Alberto--especially you readers from the middle of the state. You had an overabundance of rain, accompanied by substantial flooding and it was responsible for one death. I say this only to mention again that we have already had two named storms this year and one was before the official start of hurricane season and the other was named on the first day.
Extreme weather forecasters have warned of a busy storm year again and many of our coastal residents know the damage that can be wrought from even a passing glance from a sizeable storm. These same forecasters predicted a busy hurricane season last year and were wrong. I sure hope they are again, but Mother Nature has given them a two-storm head start.
We have moved into our summer weather pattern. The heat is high, the humidity is right up there with the heat and we have daily sea breezes intensifying through the afternoon. This is a recipe for sudden thunderstorms and all should be on the lookout for them. Avoid being caught in them if at all possible. There is potential for damage from the gusty winds and heavy rains that usually accompany them, but lightning is always potentially deadly. Seek shelter when thunderstorms are brewing.
The offshore fishing has been good for a while and should be continuing. It has been one of the best years I can remember for gaffer dolphin. While almost everyone who ventures offshore has been catching them to 25 pounds there have been some real horses caught.
If you've never been on the business end of a rod and reel connected to a dolphin over 50 pounds, let me tell you--it's work. It might be considered fun once that big bull is in the boat, but it's work up until then. It will really make you appreciate a cold drink (immediately) and Ben-Gay (the next morning).
There are also some tuna still passing by in the Gulf Stream eddies, but the warm water has slowed that action considerably. It has also been a good year so far for wahoo and a few really large ones have been caught.
This has also been a good year for billfish so far. The biggest spike in billfish encounters has been with sailfish. Hopefully the higher numbers of sails are a payback for better education of anglers and a release rater of almost 100 per cent. Sailfish are being caught from just offshore of the Northwest Places out to the Big Rock. There are some being seen and caught elsewhere, but the current concentration is holding off Cape Lookout.
There are growing numbers of good reports of small dolphin moving closer inshore. There were approaching the areas around 100 feet deep a week or so ago and the warming water and abundance of baitfish has brought them even closer. Don't be surprised to see them at many of the popular king mackerel spots around 60 feet deep.
Speaking of kings; the reports are getting better. There are snake kings from just off the beach out to about 100 feet of water. The hot spot has been the rocks, wrecks and artificial reefs at about 60 feet deep. It is the king mackerel fishermen that have found all the dolphin in these areas.
I'm still hearing some occasional good cobia reports. Some folks say the overall cobia bite is beginning to slow, but there are still a couple of good days every week. If you miss them, just remember the old saying, "You should have been here yesterday," and begin planning for your next trip. Remember the minimum size for cobia is 33 inches fork length (tip of nose to the center of the fork of the tail). There have been some caught that barely surpassed the minimum size.
Good Spanish mackerel catches are being reported along the entire coast. The hot areas have been around the inlets, the shoals at the capes, and the nearshore artificial reefs. Size 0 and 00 size Clarkspoons in silver, gold and many of the flash color combinations have been the hot lures. A small planer or trolling sinker is needed to get the lure below the surface to the feeding fish.
Pier fishing has slowed some as the water continues to warm, but the pier fishermen continue to see a pretty mixed catch. Early and late in the day, the Spanish mackerel bite has been good on Got-Cha jigs with gold hooks. The flounder bite has also picked up some in the past week and the number of keepers to shorts is improving. Other fish being caught include pompano, drum, bluefish and an occasional trout.
Some cobia and kings have also been decked at the piers. The best action so far has been from Topsail to the south, but with the water warming and baitfish becoming plentiful, the action should be hot everywhere at any time.
The inshore and nearshore flounder bite has been improving. Just like at the piers, the number of keepers to shorts is rapidly improving. The inside hot spots have been around the inlets and at the mouths of the marsh creeks. The ocean hot spots have been the nearshore artificial reefs and patches of live bottom scattered along the beaches.
Flounder fishermen should remember the minimum size for ocean flounder is 14-1/2 inches, while it is only 14 inches in inside waters. The possession limit is 8 flounder per person per day.
The dividing line for the flounder sizes is the COLREGS line, which is on most charts. This is a line that generally crosses from the outer edge of one side of an inlet to the other. However, there are exceptions! One of the best examples is Bardens Inlet, where the COLREGS line crosses from the southeast end of Shackleford Banks to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. The water beyond this point, but still in the hook at Cape Lookout, is classified as ocean water and carries the higher minimum size.
Red drum continue to bite well as the trout bite tapers off a little. Look for places where small creeks drain out of the marshes into larger creeks. When the tide falls, the minnows and shrimp have to move out of the grass and into these kinds of spots. The fish know it also and gather there to feed.
The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament ends on Saturday and many of those boats will immediately leave for Hatteras and the Hatteras Blue Marlin Club Release Tournament (252-986-2454) next week and weekend. The final registration for the Inshore Attack Cobia Tournament at Pirates Cove (252-473-1015) is today (Friday), with the tournament fishing the next three weekends.